It’s Just A Trophy


“Children shouldn’t get a trophy for just ‘showing up.’ It doesn’t teach them anything; they’re learning that no effort equals reward. Participation trophies breed laziness.”

I hear this sentence at least once a month. Usually, I’ll shake my head, shrug my shoulders, and blow off the remark. I figure the person saying the above statement either doesn’t have a kid, or hasn’t been a parent involved in a sport. Sometimes, I even give a third option: they haven’t thought the fallacy of the premise through.

Because, I am an involved parent, with an involved kid in sports—and the above statement is ludicrous.


Because trophies are inanimate objects, and do not contain the ability to morph children’s life behaviors. Still, as a society, we’re stuck on the idea that a trophy wields some mystic power over children. Ask a neighbor; ask a friend. Heck, ask a coworker. Trust me, you’ll meet hotheaded rants over the very idea of a participation trophy being given to a child.

Hearing such anger over a trinket made me sit back, ponder, and think. Me and thinking, at it again. In using the above statement, I think it’s necessary to show how trophies hold power over a child’s life.

“Children shouldn’t get a trophy for just showing up.”

First of all, when does a child “show up” to a sport? This statement bothers me the most. As a parent, I take my child to weekly practices, and weekly games. Both last an hour, and the duration of the sport spans three months. Doing the math on that alone, a child spends 24 hours of their time actively involved in that one sport. Actively involved. They are kicking, throwing, ducking, weaving, running, sprinting, bouncing, skating, twirling, and moving.

How do they “just show up,” again?

“It doesn’t teach them anything.”

I slightly agree with this premise, but disagree with the rest of the 97%. No, our children aren’t learning anything from the trophy, but they are taught invaluable life lessons from the reason they receive that trophy. Three months after practicing a sport, and being actively involved, they receive a trophy. It happens three months later. A heck of a lot of moments occur during those three months—so why would one assume nothing is learned during that time?

I guess the next reasonable question might be: what are the kids taught?

They are taught to be part of a team. They learn to listen and respect authority. They are taught new ideas, and learn how to use those ideas within the game. They are taught how to think critically during stressful situations. They are taught to praise the efforts, successes, and failures of their teammates. They are taught to be assertive, but not aggressive, while playing.

These are just a few of the concepts that they are taught.

Not to mention, the real trophy, the true reward, is scoring that goal, getting that home run, and receiving the multitude of parental cheers for the effort involved.

“They’re learning that no effort equals reward.”

Aside from twenty-four hours in which they could have been playing with their favorite toy, watching TV, or playing video games, the very act of engagement in the sport proves effort. They put effort into every aspect of the sport they’ve chosen.

They practice drills, they practice concepts, they practice strength training. Our actively involved in sports children run, weave, duck, pass, dribble, hit, sprint, and throw. They fail magnificently, they get hurt, and they learn to overcome obstacles—they learn to overcome themselves. Success in sports is measured by the pride our children feel when they finally get it right.

So, why can’t they get rewarded for the magnitude of effort they’ve placed in the sport that they love?

“Participation trophies breed laziness.”

No, parenting does that. Let’s play a game of pretend. Pretend, for a moment, that a child is actively involved in three sports throughout the year. Using the same algorithm as before, they will now spend three days training and playing those sports. The rest of the year, which is the other three hundred, sixty-two days, they’re in school, or with their parents.

But, no. Let’s blame the trophy for laziness. It’s a lot easier to transfer bad behavior onto a dust-collecting knick knack.

Sports–the concept of teamwork–helps build and strengthen a child’s character. It allows the talent of trying new things. It teaches our children to grow as a leader, while understanding the necessity of cooperating with others. It teaches them to listen to a coach, to mind authority, to work with other teammates, to problem solve, to utilize critical thinking skills in a crisis moment, and to praise effort.

It’s the sport that teaches them, the sport that engages them, and the sport they actively involve themselves in—so why is so much emphasis placed on an object that comes three months later? Why do we allow a trophy to wield superpowers?

In the world of sports, the trophy is the sticker, the ice cream, or the green, smiley face. They’re proud to gain it, but they’re more proud of the A+ that comes with diligent effort, a scored goal, and raucous parental cheers.

No comments posted on February 9, 2015 in Winging It, Mom Style

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